MLB Power Rankings: A’s dominate as AL wild-card race heats up

Oakland Athletics' Mark Canha, third from right, is congratulated by teammates after hitting a double to score Jurickson Profar against the Kansas City Royals during the first inning of a baseball game in Oakland, Calif., Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

For teams still in the wild-card race, it feels like October already.

Amid division champions, clinched spots and 100-game winners, there’s still a lot of meaningful baseball left in the regular season. And the playoff picture looks wide open.

The Oakland A’s are closer than most to a playoff spot in the American League after five series wins in a row and a 92-61 record with less than two weeks left in the regular season. That includes a dramatic 1-0, 11th-inning walk-off win over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday, their ninth walk-off of 2019.

Led by Matt Olson, the team’s home-run leader with 35, Matt Chapman and Marcus Semien, the A’s have posted a 15-3 clip in September and will meet relatively easy opponents in this final stretch, facing off with three division rivals in the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, and Seattle Mariners.

Oakland has also welcomed back star pitcher Sean Manaea, who missed a full year following a procedure on his shoulder — a pivotal addition to a rotation that boasts veteran names like Mike Fiers, Homer Bailey and Tanner Roark, and a prime candidate to start a potential wild-card game in the beginning of next month. The left-hander pitched six scoreless innings with six strikeouts, three hits and a walk last Sunday against the Rangers.

Still in the AL race and fighting tooth-and-nail to catch up with the A’s are the Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians. Both teams have the exact same 90-63 record, and the upcoming schedule doesn’t really give either team a clear advantage.

The Indians have most likely drained all their hopes of winning the AL Central for the fourth year in a row, but a four-game winning streak and an 8-2 stretch over the last 10 games make them slight frontrunners for the second wild-card spot. Cleveland’s rotation has posted the fifth-best ERA in baseball with 3.70, illustrated by a fantastic season from young all-star Shane Bieber. The 24-year-old has a 14-7 record with a 3.26 ERA and 1.033 WHIP over 201.1 innings pitched in 2019.

But their main opponent’s pitching has been nothing short of spectacular, either.

Rays starters have the third-best ERA in the league (3.63) and the lowest rate of home runs allowed per nine innings (1.02). Those numbers, combined with the return of Cy Young winner Blake Snell — who hadn’t pitched in nearly two months after an elbow injury — give Tampa Bay a pretty good chance to break a five-year post-season drought.

In the National League, the Central division is still up for grabs, but after a stellar second-half stretch, it looks like the St. Louis Cardinals are in a good position to bring it home for the first time since 2015. The Cards’ division rivals Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs, on the other hand, will battle the Washington Nationals for the two remaining playoff positions.

Here are this week’s MLB Power Rankings, with the A’s surging as the biggest winners after their September heroics.

1. (1) New York Yankees

2. (2) Houston Astros

3. (3) Los Angeles Dodgers

4. (4) Atlanta Braves

5. (5) Minnesota Twins

6. (8) Oakland Athletics

7. (9) Cleveland Indians

8. (6) Tampa Bay Rays

9. (7) St. Louis Cardinals

10. (14) Milwaukee Brewers

11. (10) Washington Nationals

12. (12) Chicago Cubs

13. (11) Arizona Diamondbacks

14. (13) Philadelphia Phillies

15. (15) Boston Red Sox

16. (16) New York Mets

17. (19) San Francisco Giants

18. (17) Cincinnati Reds

19. (18) Pittsburgh Pirates

20. (20) Texas Rangers

21. (21) Los Angeles Angels

22. (22) San Diego Padres

23. (25) Seattle Mariners

24. (23) Chicago White Sox

25. (24) Toronto Blue Jays

26. (26) Colorado Rockies

27. (27) Kansas City Royals

28. (28) Miami Marlins

29. (29) Detroit Tigers

30. (30) Baltimore Orioles

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